MEMO: We've decided to Upgrade our software system.

No other company announcement inspires such a huge range of emotions.

Everything from ambivalence to panic can be felt in both the lunch room and the board room in the days following a company's decision to upgrade its technology.

Even folks who haven't been through a company technology change, such as accounting, dispatching or inventory management software upgrades, can relate to the anxiety felt by professionals in this situation. That's because we've all been there... at home. Remember how long it took you to set up that new personal computer? What about the DVR you spent hours programming in your living room?

 

The only difference-those technology upgrades were your choice. As the CEO of your family, you understood and agreed with the need to buy a new home computer. You wanted that DVR and were more than willing to deal with the hassles to get to the benefit.

Employees are not always as enthusiastic. To get inside their experience, imagine your mother-in-law coming for a visit to your home. After a couple of weeks watching you, making side comments about your inefficiencies and suggestions for how to improve, she calls in a repairman and has him install a couple new items in your home-all without your input. Bad feeling, isn't it?

Change is a Four-Letter Word: I.C.A.N.

New technologies in a construction business environment fail most often because employees are not educated on why the change is happening and how that "upgrade" will improve the business.

Too often, companies mistake training for true education. The training session, which most often comes after decisions have been made, contracts have been signed and IT has invested a tremendous amount of time configuring the new system into the overall structure of the company, is too often an employee's first introduction to a technology upgrade.

When making a plan for education, company executives need to first explain why they are looking for a new system, what they are hoping to accomplish and that they are ready to listen to employee suggestions.

 

Employees are also human. Many of us are upset at the prospect of change-anywhere in our lives. New technology threatens the status quo, and as such, most employees who are only told (vs. consulted) about a change in their day-to-day jobs become nervous that they won't be able to perform as well with the new tools (tools they didn't order).

Ultimately, a company's success in deploying new technology depends on the enacting of an I.C.A.N. program. While it might sound like something a motivational speaker would utter from a podium in a high school gym, it's less about attitude and more about action.

I.C.A.N. is a process, providing step-by-step instructions for company executives hoping to keep their teams happy and moving forward instead of sulking about the "good old days."

It's best if the I.C.A.N. program is put into play before a company even starts researching technology enhancements or meeting with sales reps. However, if you find yourself already in the throes of a technology overhaul, many of these steps can still work to your advantage.

"I" is for Involve

Technology solutions initiated by executive mandate are doomed. Executive decisions are right more often when intelligence is gathered by those doing the job every day.

 

Asking for the input of your employees, really listening and then ultimately putting the best suggestions into play shows your employees you respect them. But beyond providing "feel good" benefits, involving employees in the process will undoubtedly teach you something. As you gather information from the people who work with your software and other technology systems the most, you're bound to come across problems you didn't even know existed.

Here's a real-life scenario you want to avoid:

A group of executives gathered to reassess strategy for the coming year. Revenues were lagging behind the competition's and customer satisfaction was down. During the executive summit, which did not include members of the scheduling department, they settled on a solution - replace their aging, yet stable, scheduling system with a flashy new one.  Six months later, 25 percent of the scheduling department had quit and the new system was out.

Involving ground troops in battle decisions will give them the motivation to fight hard for you in the change wars.

If you're finding it difficult to manage employee involvement, you might consider a third party. External assistance can provide a buffer allowing the company to get to the root cause of their process issues.

"C" is for Cultivate

 

Grow a team of influencers from key stakeholder groups. Every department directly and indirectly affected by the new technology should be represented with a seat on your technology task force.

Note the term "influencers." When deciding which employees to assign to this group, don't go straight for the supervisors or the most senior people. Instead, look for those employees who have the greatest respect of their peers. Those who have the ability to convince the rest of their team that this change-a change they helped implement-is not only good for the company, but good for them, as well.

This task force will be involved in the process from the word go. Not only will they help pinpoint problems with the current technology or process, but they will help research new solutions. They will sit in on meetings with software sales reps, be involved in the demos and trial-runs, help gather questions, monitor for problems once the technology is deployed and keep the executive team informed of the effectiveness of the solution moving forward.

One rental company put this tactic into play. After making the decision to deploy new technology, the company executives opted to involve the employee most opposed to the solution in the discovery phase. In addition, they assigned him a key role in the deployment phase. The employee became a huge advocate for the solution, built a ground-level coalition of support and mended the cultural divides that come up during the first months of the change.

If you invest the time and energy into those who can set an example and provide support for the new solution, you'll develop a positive bandwagon effect that will boost the success of your new technology. What's more, it will give you a better chance at reaping the kudos that come from a healthy, happy workforce-not to mention a healthy Return on Investment (ROI).

"A" is for Analyze

Analysis starts the technology upgrade process. You must first define a problem before solving it, of course. The most important thing to keep in mind-aside from employee involvement-overall process problems. You want to avoid putting a software Band-Aid on a gaping process wound.

Don't stop there. Continue analyzing throughout the project-even after you're feeling safe, secure and satisfied that you've completed the assignment.

It's extremely difficult-especially after making what is often a huge financial and time investment-to actively hunt for problems with your new technology. But to not do so is a big mistake.

Analyze where your new technology is falling short. One of the best places to do this is in training. Sounds crazy, right? After all, isn't stumbling across problems during a live training session a lot like a pilot coming over the intercom to ask for help manning the controls?

Not at all.

Of course your trainers should know the new solution inside and out before heading off to the training session, but they should also know that to come across a problem in one of these sessions is completely okay. If employees can see that the new solution is a work in progress-that even the experts know it'll take some time to get it exactly right, that the kinks they are experiencing are anticipated and even appreciated-they'll be more apt to speak up rather than grumble.

One astute transportation manager helping her team of drivers through a new GPS tracking system used this method. Shortly after deployment, several glitches in the new technology were discovered, and drivers were upset. The transportation manager hosted a free lunch meeting to hear the complaints in a social setting. She took the time to research the issues and followed up at the next driver meeting with the answers.

"N" is for Normalize

Because we know that people crave normalcy like they do chocolate or beer (might not be good for them, but they want it badly), it follows that creating a "normal" work environment is the end goal. To help the new technology become a part of the company culture, be as upfront as possible with the folks who will be most affected by the changes.

If your IT director is going to have to work a lot of hours to get this project into motion, tell him. Even though he already knows it, he'll respect that you've acknowledged how hard this will be on him and his team. Give him bonuses along the way to show your dedication to the project and appreciation of him as the most pivotal person in the process.

One transportation company in the throes of deploying a dispatching system developed an incentive program to reward employees who used the new system in a superior fashion. The buzz built internally, and each quarter, employees talk about the new system and applaud each other for leveraging this new tool to do their jobs well.

Show your employees a light at the end of the tunnel by setting realistic timelines. Whatever deadlines have been set for the project, add three weeks and then communicate it to the workforce-a tactic you are certainly well-versed in as a construction industry pro.

Invest in ongoing training. Most of today's technology solutions are sold to companies that insisted it be customized to fit their unique situations. This is smart, of course, but what happens in this type of set-up is that companies have a gold-mine of unused technology that "came with" their customized solution. If you keep in contact with your software vendor and set real dates (not just plans) for future training on these cherry-on-top tools, you'll get the most out of your investment while at the same time driving home the concept that this technology is here to stay.

While it may not sound "normal," pretend the technology solution is an employee. Celebrate his successes and keep measuring him against performance benchmarks. If employees can view the technology as a coworker-an entity who exists to help them meet their own goals and do their jobs well-they will have less chance of waiting (or even hoping) for it to fail.

Company leaders are often advised to "stay positive" when going through a demanding process like overhauling technology. But what they should really be told is to "stay real." Be honest with your employees, and use them as the excellent human resources they are. Many of them will have great ideas, and will be able to shape the project positively. Involve them, and your payoff will be a flexible, motivated and enthusiastic team that actually welcomes the four letter word-change.

 

Construction Business Owner, May 2008